The Navy portion of the fiscal year 2021 presidential budget will include schedule adjustments for when the service plans to formally acquire large unmanned surface vessels (LUSVs), a service official said. Jan. 16.

“The prototypes are ongoing now, [but] when are we going to transition to a program of record … full on capability here? Because of our discussions with Congress and industry, we are making some adjustments there,” said Rear Adm. Casey Moton, program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants. “I think when PB ’21 comes, you’ll see some adjustments.”

Speaking on a Thursday PEO panel on the future of Naval forces at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium in Arlington, Virginia, Moton emphasized that he expected a program of record to occur in the relatively near future.

“This is not 15 years out. … in the FYDP [future years defense plan], a little bit beyond FYDP, is when those numbers are going to be out there,” he said.

The fiscal year 2020 defense appropriations bill passed in December 2019 included about $209 million for the Navy to develop two more prototype LUSVs. The Navy released a final request for proposals for multiple conceptual designs of the Block I LUSV in September 2019, noting that “Large Unmanned Surface Vessels of this configuration will be procured starting in fiscal 2021 with competitive Detail Design and Construction contract award(s).”

The Navy is continuing testing with two prototype LUSVs that were developed under the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) “Ghost Fleet Overlord” program, Moton noted. His office is focusing on honing issues including reliability and mission and navigational autonomy for the platforms.

“The prototypes have been successful, and that’s where my focus is, is on getting more prototypes in the next two years,” Moton said. “For the industry folks, I caution if you are sitting here in 2020 thinking that unmanned is your lifeline to having a steady industrial base, we need to get through the prototoype phase first.”

He warned that the Navy is “not necessarily in the lead” when it comes to navigational autonomy capabilities.

“There are commercial companies out there around the world that are doing optionally manned, optionally unmanned vessels with some degree of autonomy quite a bit,” he said.